November 8 is the national day to celebrate first-generation college students. In honor of National First-Generation College Celebration, we asked Department of Philosophy undergraduate adviser Gina Gould to share some reflections on her own time as a first-generation student. She explained how she came to shift the way she thought about higher education—from considering it primarily in utilitarian terms (as professional training), to viewing it as something intrinsically valuable for its own sake. Now she brings her own experience to her work supporting our undergraduates in navigating their journeys here at UW.
Like many first-generation college students, I wasn’t going to “waste” my opportunity to go to college on some “useless” major. My education was going to have a purpose. My education was going to lead me to a good job. I wasn’t going into debt just to go back to restaurant work. I was going to make something of myself. I was going to be a high school teacher!
There were a couple of challenges. I was having a much better time in political science and history classes than I was in my education ones. I hate public speaking. If I’m being honest, I’ll admit I’m not particularly fond of kids. And, fortunately, although it felt very unfortunate at the time, no one was hiring teachers.
After graduation, to pay the rent, I took a front desk job at my alma mater. My boss encouraged me take advantage of resources to do the career exploration I should have done when I was actually a student (resources I had ignored because I was so determined to be a teacher). I discovered I had the right field—education—but the wrong job. I went on to a master’s degree program that focused on training people to work in student services in higher education, a program that didn’t require me to have been in any particular major.
This time I got it right—still in education but working one-on-one with students to help them be successful in college. I’ve now been an undergraduate adviser at the University of Washington for over 25 years. For most of those years I’ve been fortunate to work for the philosophy department. My philosophy students have taught me a lesson I think all first generation students need to hear. They are just as concerned about their futures as I was in college, but they discovered long before I did that your college education has more to do with who you are than with your professional success.